A couple weeks ago, on a Sunday, I got out to the beeyard here in St. Paul, I needed to check the hives. In November of 2016, during the just-before-winter-hive-check, we had two fairly strong hives – they were strong enough and had produced enough honey that we were comfortable harvesting honey from these hives. We left an ample amount for the bees to use throughout the winter. The other two hives, however, were not in great condition. The bees never moved up and beyond the first honey super, and in one of the hives, they had not even filled out that first super completely. The top deep on each of these two hives was also empty. After we pulled honey supers from the two strong hives, we wrapped the hives in tar paper, like we have done for many-a-winter-seasons. In addition to the winter tar papering, we have been using insulation boxes with a piece of Homasote board on the bottom of each insulation box, this, in theory, helps absorb excess moisture from the bees.
When I walked into the beeyard, two weeks ago, I had the feeling that things might not be good. It had been warmer than the usual the last week, and yet, there were no signs of worker bees cleaning the hives out. Instead, in front of one of the weak-hives was a pile of Homasote chips. I knew what that meant – mice.
As soon as I took off the outer cover, the smell of urea hit my nose. Mice. As I began to tear down the hive, I noticed a small rodent nose poke out of the hive entrance. It darted back into the confines of the fine – I assume this nose was attached the rest of a whole mouse. Bending over to get a closer look, it was apparent that metal hive entrances are the way to go – the mice just chewed on the wooden entrance until it was large enough to just saunter into the place.
With the insulation box, honey super, and top brood box off, I was down to the last brood box and bottom board. This remaining brood box was less frame-and-comb, and more shreds and pieces of Homasote board – soaked in mouse urine with feces mixed in for good measure. A rapid series of taps on the remaining brood box, and a deer mouse came shooting up from between two loosely clogged frames. I wondered aloud, if there were more in there?
I lifted off the brood box, and with a shower of daylight, twenty or so mice explode out from the hive, darting this way and that way, over my feet, and across my pant legs.
On to the next hive, I guess.
One other hive had signs of mouse damage in it, but only between two frames. The bees in that hive, one of the strong hives going into winter, seemed to have gotten above their nearest pocket of honey in a super, and, likely, were caught off guard when the temperatures swung lower. A similar situation was uncovered in the other strong hive. A frozen cluster of bees was at the top of the hive – just until the Homasote board. Plenty of honey remained elsewhere in the hive.
The last hive, one of the poor hives going into winter, had no honey remaining. What little honey had been produced by the bees, had been all consumed.
This unfortunate happening with all the hives being devoid of bees can be spun into a positive of sorts, I guess. We have been wanting to get the hives moved for a little while, and this presents itself as an opportunity to more easily deal with that desire. I spent the rest of the day removing the hive boxes and generally cleaning up the fenced in area. I also removed the pallets that the hives had been resting on for the last few years – the pallets were getting a bit soft.
The hope is, once the ground thaws, put four concrete pillars into the ground – similar to the base of my previous chicken coop, and build a nice, solid platform for the hives to reside on; make it easier to work around the hives and not be confined by the old chainlink enclosure.
A week ago, a couple friends tagged along with me to Racine, MN, where we have just two hives remaining. We have had hives in Racine for a number of years, and surprisingly, we have on hive that has had bees – through three winters.
The sun was out when we arrived at the farm. Each of us put on a beesuit, and we walked the short distance from the car to the hives. I rapidly tap a bit on the first hive, the hive that had made it through three previous winters. I could hear anything. Neither could my two friends. We had the smoker going, just in case the bees were actually there.
The tar paper on these two hives was in shreds. The wind must have been fierce earlier in the winter.
With the first set of ratchet straps removed, I lifted off the outer cover and insulation box. The thing that hit me first was the smell. A live hive has a distinct smell, and this hive had it. I lifted off the top honey box, and bees began to make their way up. A peek under the next honey box showed a teaming colony of bees hard at work, in the hive, on a nice sunny day. The honey boxes also had ample weight left in them, evenly distributed, there was no need to supplement with winter pollen patties (which was great, because I had forgotten them back in St. Paul).
My friend, also named Alex, who was also a beekeeper in Vermont a few years ago, got to work at unclogging the entrance of dead bees. I started to unstrap the the remaining hive. Our friend, JP, watched and asked us questions.
The second hive turned out to be even more active than the first. Removing the insulation box, showed the bees were busy moving about on the south-facing side of the hive. A quick check on the weight of the two honey boxes showed an ample amount of mostly well distributed honey. Alex worked to unclog the entrance this hive after he finished up the other hive’s entrance.
With that, we made sure each hive was reassembled with no gaps to let out warmth, or let mice in. The entrance guards were back in place, and the ratchet straps snug. We headed back to Minneapolis and St. Paul.